Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is the concept of ‘uneven and combined development’ useful for thinking about the emergence of the ‘international’?


States have always interacted in an international arena, especially in the modern anarchical scene. Development is uneven due to variations of culture, economy, geopolitics, politics and power, but on the other hand we observe that they coexist whilst keeping intact their individual societies. When referring to coexistence we also understand the relations and interaction between the states. From these we interpret that the social development is uneven and combined in the international anarchical system due to the ‘multiplicity of its instances’[1]. Furthermore there is interaction between societies and intra societies, i.e. relations with others, which are variably developed.
When talking about the international we have to understand that it does not refer to unconnected coexistence, for example the Byzantine and meso-American civilizations, nor the age of feudalism where we do not have distinct societies, or the intensely differentiated, intensely interactive development of 19th century Europe. What we today mean when we use the term international, as Rosenberg writes, ‘is a crystallization, in a particular historical form, of this wider attribute of social development – its generic unevenness. However, this divides scholars due to the fact that a social definition of international does not really exist. And yet it is defined by the ‘uneven character of social development’[2], meaning the interaction between states. Trotsky writes: Unevenness is the most general law of the historic process.


Through many historical examples, for instance Egypt and Rome, Trotsky identifies the essential provincial, episodic and even cyclical character. Many empires, civilizations, kingdoms have prevailed and declined, without interacting or making an impact on other societies, of their time; one could say that historical process was always uneven and combined.   
Capitalism, being the main economic system of the modern world has not abolished the uneven and combined development. Trotsky writes: ‘capitalism prepares and in a certain sense realises the universality and permanence of man’s development’.[3] He also points out the historical sudden expansion of interconnection, especially since the 19th century, where the external commerce and interaction prevailed. This is attributable to the existence of empires, for example the British Empire, and of the prevalence of imperialism.
Moreover there is a core-periphery division which explains the modern unevenness of development. The core capitalist states are the industrialized nations of Europe and North America. The periphery consists of actors which belong to the rest of the world and where a common practice is the extraction of wealth via violence and force. There is also the element of dependency, for example the way capitalist western states depend on each other, but also depend on non-capitalist states, to increase production, geopolitical security, economic stability and so on.  
Another factor is the mutual value towards products. This also means that cheaper labour is constantly desired by the private firms of capitalism, which is also achieved by the use of technical support and machinery. This explains why international industries move around the globe and obtain establishments in third world countries. We are also reminded of Marx’s ‘relative surplus value’. For the first time development becomes a universal essential of modern human society, especially when it is expressed through technical and scientific production. It introduces the idea of world market. As a consequence to all of these factors development becomes permanent, because of the global interaction that prevails.
‘In short, for Trotsky, capitalism did not just change the world: it actually changed the overall nature of historical change itself.’[4]Marx commented that capital had ‘produced world history for the first time’. But this doesn’t explain why states’ developments differ.
What we understand today is due to capitalism the uneven and combined development has become, as Rosenberg states, ‘a theory of modern world history’. This is the case due to the fact that many countries entered the sphere of capitalism later than others, according to the model the western world obtained, or due to the fact that many states, although existing and interacting in the international scene, are not capitalist. So we live in a world where combined development flourishes between capitalist and non-capitalist states. Marx reflects on the Russian development where he argues that ‘the asynchronous concurrency of Russian society with its more industrialized neighbours could be of decisive significance not just for Russia, but for the course of world development as a whole.’[5]
The international arena is based on the uneven development, which can clearly be identified through history; for example, we have the predominance of the USA and the collapse of the USSR. There is also the system in which the states coexist, the bipolar, multipolar, unipolar systems, the North and South division. These explain in depth the uneven environment of international relations, which changes in time but always exist (for example the hegemonic power of each epoch). This phenomenon ‘is not a side-effect of modern international relations but instead a property of capitalist development.’[6]     



[1] Justin Rosenbrg, International Relations- The ‘Higher Bullshit’: A Reply to the Globalization Theory Debate, p. 453
[2] Justin Rosenbrg, International Relations- The ‘Higher Bullshit’: A Reply to the Globalization Theory Debate, p. 454
[3] Justin Rosenbrg, International Relations- The ‘Higher Bullshit’: A Reply to the Globalization Theory Debate, p. 455
[4] Justin Rosenbrg, International Relations- The ‘Higher Bullshit’: A Reply to the Globalization Theory Debate, p. 456
[5] Justin Rosenbrg, International Relations- The ‘Higher Bullshit’: A Reply to the Globalization Theory Debate, p. 479
[6] Justin Rosenbrg, International Relations- The ‘Higher Bullshit’: A Reply to the Globalization Theory Debate, p. 475

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